Its your weekly basketball post but although this is more of a yearly post. This is a recruiting update for the 2017-18 class. Before we start, I think it important to keep in mind, this is UCLA, even in the darkest of times great players come to UCLA and it shows in some nice recruits. We have a huge recruiting advantage.
First, let's lay out the needs:
Likely 2017-18 returnees:
Combo: Aaron Holiday
Two Guard or shooting guard:
Wing: Prince Ali
Power Forward: TJ Leaf, Gyrgory Golomon (Senior), Alex Olesinski (Junior)
Center: Thomas Welsh, Ike Anigbogu, Ikenna Okwarabizie
UCLA is losing Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford. Steve Alford would be a fool to expect Lonzo Ball to stay.
A note on two players. Aaron Holiday. Aaron Holiday is one of the current team's best players and will likely be the best returning player. However, that does not mean that Aaron is a point guard. Aaron can defend the point but he has yet to show he can run the point. That could start to happen this year. However, for now I am listing him as a combo guard in that he can play point or off the ball.
Prince Ali is even harder to project. Ali, like Holiday, is an elite athlete. He is not an elite shooter. He is best as third guard but is not a good rebounder. I really feel for Ali being hurt so much of his UCLA career.
Obviously, UCLA has already has some recruits for the 2017-18:
PG: Jaylen Hands (ESPN Rank #31 in the nation) 6'1":
Hands is a rangy point guard prospect with long arms and big hands. He is a dynamic passer (left-and-right handed passes) in the open court and his vision is uncanny. He has a good burst off the dribble to get by his defender and he can finish
Hands is a more traditional point guard and will give an instant replacement to the loss of Ball. Holiday may be better but Hands is a recruit UCLA desperately needed after years of just one point guard or even worse one combo guard. Also, if the team does very well Holiday would be the next player to leave early making Hands an essential recruit.
Shooting Guard: LiAngelo Ball, 6'6".
LiAngelo is Lonzo's brother.
Unlike Lonzo, LiAngelo was not highly recruited and is not on any top 100 lists. There are questions about LiAngelo and cynics will say he was only taken because both his brothers were offered. A nicer way to look at it is LiAngelo may be a bit of project. Six-six from a very athletic basketball family is someone who could get better over four years.
Center: Jaylen Hill 6'8" (ESPN Rank #50)
Hill is a long and bouncy post prospect who possesses a high ceiling. He has broad shoulders, long arms, soft hands, and great feet. He can follow dunk due to his quick leaping ability and timing. He gets most of his points off of put-backs and tip-ins
This is interesting. Hill is a strange recruit on paper for the stretch four loving Steve Alford. Hill is a short center (In fairness he is young for his class and may still grow). If Thomas Welsh stays, UCLA will have a real logjam at center. To be clear, right now, none of the guys looks like a possible four. So Hill will have time to get better behind some people but does not seem to be a likely big help for the 2017-18 season.
What this means is UCLA? UCLA likely loses its top two scorers and shooters (Isaac and Bryce) without a replacement. UCLA becomes more athletic and potential better on defense.
UCLA has a plethora of big men, but none look to have the tools to be great defenders at the four. Further Leaf may leave as well. So how can UCLA round out those last scholarships?
UCLA needs a small forward and interestingly enough UCLA is after two great sounding UCLA names:
Kris Wilkes 6'7"is not related to Jamal but is a shooting forward ranked 14 by ESPN:
Wilkes is a long and multi-dimensional forward who is capable of scoring the ball from wide range of places on the floor. He's a menace in transition where his size, length and athletic ability are difficult to stop but he can also create mismatch problems in the half-court.
UCLA would be a lot of fun to watch with the Indiana Wilkes. UCLA is one of the last three in the mix for Wilkes. The other guy not only has the name but has the blood connection 6'7" Charles O'Bannon Jr.:
O'Bannon Jr. is a rangy scoring guard who has a knack to score at all three levels. He can attack in transition and has the speed, length, and bounce to finish strong. If the defense closes the lane he is an excellent slasher with a good 1st step
O'Bannon is "Only" ranked 88th but Just SC is in the running. It would be a major insult to lose the son of a player of UCLA's last national basketball championship to Just SC.
The last prospect I want to discuss is the most intriguing. Cody Riley. Riley is the opposite of the rest of the kids on this list. He looks like a man and is a real banger inside. He is a true four but only 6'7" (while weighing 260). ESPN ranks him number 45:
Riley is a physical specimen with long arms, big hands, and a solid amount of explosiveness. Despite his size and strength advantage, his go-to move is his feathery jump shot out to 17-feet. The release on his shot is smooth and his mechanics are solid all-around.
UCLA has not had a banger at four since Reeves Nelson went insane. Riley is unlikely to be a pro but would be fun in college.
Alford needs to close the deal on some of these guys.
On a closing note, UCLA is always in the recruiting conversation. UCLA has a recruiting advantage, hopefully Alford can use it, for himself or the next coach.